Prosecutors in Bulgaria’s second city Plovdiv have told municipal and national authorities to organise emergency temporary strengthening of the Tobacco Town warehouses gutted in a fire on August 20.
The Regional Prosecutor’s Office sent a letter on August 25 to Plovdiv municipality and the Ministry of Culture’s general inspectorate for the protection of cultural heritage, ordering the immediate implementation of their powers under the Cultural Heritage Act to strengthen the burnt buildings, to prevent their destruction and eliminate the risk of accidents.
Prosecutors said that within seven days, they should be informed of the measures taken.
The Prosecutor’s Office said that it had completed inspections of the site in the investigation into the fire.
The inferno on August 20 started in the mid-afternoon and continued for several hours, gutting the buildings, part of an ensemble meant to protected by law. The Tobacco Town warehouses date back the early part of the 20th century, a boom time for Plovdiv’s place in the Balkan tobacco trade.
A homeless man has been charged with arson of the Tobacco Town warehouses. He denies wrongdoing. Prosecutors have said that the investigation into the fire will not stop with his arrest. On social networks, many Bulgarians have expressed suspicion about what lay behind the fire.
Public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio (BNR) reported on August 26 that meanwhile, the Ministry of Culture had initiated new administrative proceedings against the owner of the tobacco warehouse at 8 Odrin Street in Plovdiv, the subject of an attempted demolition in March.
That attempted demolition was stopped and the Plovdiv chief architect and the representative of the company that owns the Odrin Street warehouse now face criminal proceedings. They deny wrongdoing.
The Ministry of Culture said that the company that owned the building had failed to comply with an order issued by Culture Minister Vezhdi Rashidov to present and submit for co-ordination within two months an investment project to restore the building.
The attempted demolition in March was the cause of massive public outrage in Plovdiv, re-ignited in August with the burning of the warehouses.
Among the reasons for the outrage, apart from the damage to architecturally important fabric meant to be subject to statutory protection, is that Plovdiv is to be European Capital of Culture in 2019.
Targets of public anger have included the municipality and the Culture Ministry. On social networks, people have posted images altered from the Capital of Culture posters, showing the entire city in flames.
Plovdiv mayor Ivan Totev, irked by the criticism, has said that his city deserves to be European Capital of Culture: “We deserve to be the capital of culture, we have the capacity to be the capital of culture, we know that we can and we will be a successful Capital of Culture!”.
Totev suggested that the attacks emanated from, as he put it ironically, “friends” in Bulgaria’s capital city Sofia – which lost out in the contest to be named 2019 European Capital of Culture.
He said that he expected that the attacks would continue right up to 2019.
Angered by conspiracy theories about the fire in Tobacco Town, he said that Plovdiv was the city in Bulgaria that made the best efforts to protect its cultural heritage, adding that this was not empty talk but could be seen in the municipal budget.
“Every year we devote significant financial resources to support the development, preservation and restoration of the cultural and historical heritage of the city,” he said.
“There is no doubt that Tobacco Town will be one of the emblems of the city,”
Assen Assenov, director of the Edno Foundation for Culture and Art and someone who has been actively involved in a series of important cultural and design events in Plovdiv in recent years, told BNR that no one in Brussels would allow the Plovdiv – European Capital of Culture 2019 event to be torpedoed.
He said that Plovdiv was the first Bulgarian city to have the honour to host this large-scale, prestigious event in the EU in the field of culture.
“This is an event during which Bulgaria has the chance to appear on the international cultural scene, to show that there is a contemporary culture that is capable of collaborating with various cultural organizations from across Europe and together with them, to produce cultural content on a high European level.”
Assenov said that from here on, everyone in the field of culture had to unite, saying it seemed strange to speaking of Sofia, Plovdiv and the north-west, and so on, because the European Capital of Culture was a national cause, not one of an individual city.
(Photo: (c) Clive Leviev-Sawyer)